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Thursday, 19 November 2020

Onyx Boox Note 3 accessories

In this post, I'll recommend some accessories for the Onyx Boox Note 3. The accessories listed are ones that I use and like:

  • The Note 3 does not have any design features that make it challenging to fit a universal case. The only issue is the location of the power button at the top right. However, as the power button is located inwards, it does not interfere with a top-right strap holding the e-reader. I use the Targus Universal Folio Stand Case. The case is relatively lightweight (230 grams) and can be used as a stand when reading hands-free or typing documents.
  • Arteck Bluetooth Keyboard: It is a popular Bluetooth keyboard on Amazon. Three things make this keyboard useful: (1) It is lightweight - it weighs 212 grams; (2) The keys have backlighting in multiple colours; and (3) It has good key travel compared to other tablet keyboards. 
  • Leuchtturm1917 pen loop: To store the Note 3's stylus, I use a Leuchturrm pen loop. As the stylus is thin, it perfectly fits inside the loop due to its elastic flexibility. I've tried other pen loops, but they failed to match the quality and flexibility of the Leuchtturm1917 one.

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Onyx Boox Note 3: Initial Impressions

The Note 3 is Onyx Boox's latest 10.3-inches note-taking e-reader. It is an incremental update to the previous generation and does not offer anything significant that justifies its release. I've been using the e-reader for a few days and below are my initial impressions:
  • The Onyx Boox Note 3's processor is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 - a processor that is found in many budget smartphones. Onyx Boox equipping the Note 3 with the processor results in the fastest performance of any e-reader I've used. Browsing feature-rich websites and opening news applications work relatively well. Of course, the limitations of E-Ink means I would instead browse the internet on a smartphone, tablet or PC. Yes, the extra performance is welcome but, ultimately, it offers little considering the use-cases of a note-taking e-reader. For example, the processor makes it possible to smoothly play a Youtube video, but the experience is terrible. As stated in previous posts, I am firmly in the camp that is against using full-blown Android on an e-reader. Instead, it makes more sense to develop a purpose-built operating system and applications that are optimised for the use-cases of E-Ink.
  • We still get the generic Wacom-based stylus that Onyx Boox and Boyue use with their e-readers. The Note Air's stylus is the only one designed explicitly by Onyx Boox. Also, there is no nib set, let alone spare nibs, for a different writing feel.
  • The screen isn't completely smooth. It appears that Onyx Boox chose a display layer, so it has some friction when using the stylus. The downside of the friction is that a stylus with a softer tip needs extra pressure when writing, e.g. it is difficult writing with a Samsung Tab S6 Lite S-Pen due to its rubbery tip.  
  • Onyx Boox does include a screen protector in the box - a second one would have been useful considering the included screen protector may wear over time. Screen protectors can be tricky to install but more so on an e-reader. Once installed, the extra layer generates further friction that is meant to mimic writing on paper. Unfortunately, the added layer affects the clarity of the E-Ink screen when reading. Despite the positives provided, I decided to remove the protector for better clarity.
  • The front light, considering the 10.3-inches screen, is excellent. It is distributed evenly with hardly any shadowing. I would say the Note 3 has the best front light I've used on an e-reader.
  • My initial impressions regarding battery life are positive. Battery consumption in standby mode is negligible, and it preserves capacity well when doing tasks like typing documents and writing notes.
In general, I am impressed with the Onyx Boox Note 3. A future post will be dedicated to a more in-depth review.

Friday, 30 October 2020

Kobo Libra H20 accessories

The a-symmetric design of the Kobo Libra H20 means universal 7-inches cases will not be compatible with the e-reader. Thus, it becomes necessary to find a cover designed specifically for the Libra H20 or a sleeve whose dimensions can fit the extra width of the device. Below are two covers and one sleeve that I recommend:

  • The official Kobo cover is well-designed - it has an origami design that is relatively lightweight despite the front having magnets. The best feature is the magnets at the front that locks it to the back when folded. It is a simple design feature - one also used by Amazon with its official cases - that means the front cover doesn't flap or get in the way when reading. Also, the front magnets allow the case to be folded into a stand for hands-free reading. The Kobo sleep cover comes in four different colours - aqua, black, grey and rose.
  • Gecko, it seems, has worked with Tolino to produce some eye-catching covers. These covers can be purchased via thalia.de, and some can be found on amazon.de (Gecko also sell the same covers branded with their logo). The covers are compatible with the Kobo Libra H20, as they are designed for the Tolino Vision 5 (both e-readers have identical dimensions). I own the blue/yellow version, and the quality is excellent - the front has a fabric texture feel, and the inside is made of soft feeling, durable plastic. One downside with the cover is that it weighs 125 grams, which makes it slightly heavier than the official Kobo one (the official Kobo cover weighs 110 grams).
  • It is difficult to find a sleeve that fits the Libra H20. Thalia, in collaboration with Tolino, sells sleeves explicitly designed to fit the Tolino Vision 5. One alternative sleeve that fits the Libra H20 that I use is the Targus A7 sleeve. The sleeve is made of three layers, one of which is water-resistant. The extra padding offers better protection but also means at 110 grams the A7 is slightly heavier than other 7-inches sleeves. Overall, the excess weight is a trade-off that is worth it, as the Targus A7 provides extra protection that you don't get with most sleeves. 

Monday, 19 October 2020

Kobo Libra H20: A short review

I've posted on why I think the Kobo Libra H20 is, considering its hardware features, the best value e-reader. In this post, as I've covered Kobo e-readers before, the short review focuses on general impressions that are specific to the Libra H20:

  • Unlike the flush screen of the Kobo Forma, the Kobo Libra H20's screen is recessed. I prefer the recessed screen as it means one less layer between the reader and the E-Ink layer. Another issue to consider is the screen is slightly darker than the Forma - I would classify the screen's quality as somewhere between the older Aura H20 Edition 2 and the Forma. In other words, the contrast could be better, and the background lighter.  
  • The front light is serviceable at best. It is uneven and has a noticeable shadowing across the right edge. In comparison, the Kindle Paperwhite's white lighting is more even and uniform. The front light issue has been noticed by many users, so it is not just an issue of variation between unit batches.
  • The buttons are slightly softer than the ones used on the Forma. I speculate Kobo received complaints regarding the Forma's buttons and so decided to improve their functionality.
  • Similar to the buttons, Kobo might have re-worked the power button due to negative feedback. In the Forma, the button is located to the right side and feels mushy when pressed. The Libra H20's button, on the other hand, is located - similar to Kobo Aura H20 Edition 2 and the Kobo Aura ONE -  at the back of the device. The larger circular power button also is soft to press.
  • Compared to the Forma, the build quality is a downgrade. Tap the back casing of the device, and you get a hollow noise. The Forma, with the flexible backplane of its Mobius Carta screen, feels more rigid when held.   

Overall, the negatives noted are outweighed by the Libra H20's hardware features that are found with premium e-readers (larger than 6-inches screen, the support of auto-rotation and side buttons). It costs only £30 more than the Paperwhite, but you get a lot more for that amount. The only significant issue that might put-off some users is the passable front light. The lighting does the job of providing illumination, but it might bother those who consider front light quality an essential feature to their reading experience. 

Monday, 5 October 2020

Reflections on the design and production of the Onyx Boox Note Air

Onyx Boox posted an article that details the design and production of the Onyx Boox Note Air. Two interesting points stand out:

(1) Initially, Onyx Boox planned to release the Note Air without a front light. Without the front light, the device would have been lighter and thinner (370g and 4.7mm). In my view, the added front light layer compromises the writing experience - most 10.3 and 13-inches e-readers don't have front lights - so it would have been better if Onyx Boox took the route of reMarkable and worked on optimising the screen for note-taking.  

(2) In the article, Onyx Boox notes the smaller battery capacity is a compromise needed to get the required 'tablet' thinness. Onyx Boox isn't the only vendor to advertise their note-taking devices as 'tablets' - reMarkable also advertise both their first and second-generation devices as a 'digital paper tablet'. Thus, as with tablets, thinness becomes essential even if it means a trade-off for what are viewed as traditionally the virtues of e-readers - long battery life. 

While the reMarkable 2 has the same battery capacity as the Note Air 10.3, it runs on Codex - reMarkable's own in-house Linux-based operating system developed for E-Ink. Nevertheless, it still has a larger battery capacity compared to Kobo and Kindle e-readers due to the extra power needed for note-taking. In comparison, other than the needs of note-taking, the Onyx Boox Note Air runs on Android 10.0. Interestingly, Onyx Boox notes this potential problem and state the following:  
Therefore, some users are concerned that the 3000mAh batteries in the Note Air can only last a few days on one charge.

Actually, Note Air can last at least 4 weeks on standby mode. 

Moreover, the two batteries are parallelly arranged to provide a capacity of 3000mAh in total. Such a structure enables a large space for the batteries and provides them with a higher voltage to speed up the charging. Together with Quick Charge 4.0, you can fully charge Note Air in just a few hours. 

From the passage, it is not clear if the battery life will take a hit when using the Note Air for the main tasks it was built for, i.e. writing notes, sketching and reading. Instead, they merely affirm the device conserves battery in standby mode and charges quickly relative to other devices. I appreciate the front light is an essential feature for many users, so a trade-off with added weight and improved writing texture might be worth it. Trading battery capacity for thinness, on the other hand, is a downside that may repel some users.

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Alternative EMR styluses for Onyx Boox and Boyue e-readers


An upside of most note-taking e-readers using EMR styluses is the relative ease to find alternatives (if you don't like the generic stylus Onyx Boox and Boyue include with their e-readers) or replacements. I've tried Samsung's EMR-based S-Pen on the Likebook Ares Note, and it worked without issue (the rubber-tipped S-Pen felt superior to Boyue's hard-tipped stylus). Wacom - the patent holder of electromagnetic resonance (EMR) technology - also sells styluses that are compatible with Remarkable, Onyx Boox, Boyue, and Supernote devices. Below are two available options:

Both options above are battery-free, have an 0.7 mm tip and 4000 pressure levels. 

Friday, 25 September 2020

Something different from Onyx Boox

Onyx Boox regularly releases new devices, so that it becomes difficult to follow the logic or need for a new iteration. One note-taking e-reader that was announced recently is the Onyx Boox Note Air - an e-reader that is slightly different than anything Onyx Boox released in the past. 

The design of the Onyx Boox Note Air is closer to the Kobo Forma, Libra H20 and Kindle Oasis, with one end of the device wider than the other. The one-sided extra width makes the device more comfortable to hold and rotate for landscape viewing. Onyx, for the first time, also added a built-in G-sensor to enable auto-rotation of the Boox Note Air. Another update is the re-design of the stylus that magnetically attaches to the side of the e-reader. Other Onyx Boox e-readers use a generic EMR stylus that Boyue uses too. 

One worrying aspect of the Boox Note Air is its 3000 mAh battery capacity. In comparison, the Onyx Boox Note 2 has a larger 4300 mAh capacity. As noted in previous posts, Android e-readers consume more battery, and the EMR touch layer also drains the battery quicker with extensive stylus input. The Likebook Ares Note has a similar battery capacity as the Boox Note Air (3300 mAh) and I found that it drained quickly when writing notes and using third-party Android applications.

Overall, the Onyx Boox Note Air is a unique device and is not part of the Note 10.3-inches series. It does offer some upgrades to the Note 2 - a faster processor, DDR4 RAM (although it only has 3GB RAM) and Bluetooth 5.0. At the same time, there are downgrades in comparison to the Note 2 - smaller battery capacity, less RAM, half the storage, single speaker, no fingerprint sensor, no Mobius backplane and heavier weight (despite being called the Boox Note Air!). On balance, as there are more downgrades than upgrades, the Onyx Boox Air costs slightly less than the Note 2. In my view, the biggest issue is the smaller battery capacity, so it will be interesting to follow the opinions of users on the longevity of the battery life.